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Tom, the artist and his work

It’s always good to have something to celebrate, and so it was on Saturday when the North Devon Sustrans crew turned up to support the unveiling of the new National Cycle Network sign for the Devon coast to coast: NCN27. The sign sits on the side wall of the loo block (convenient!) at the entrance to the car park at Ilfracombe harbour just a few metres away from Verity who guards the harbour entrance from sea monsters and other invaders.

You might just find it hard to get excited about an information board but it has taken Chris many years of effort to get this agreed with the council and bring it to fruition. We struck lucky with the artist. Tom worked with Michele, is an undergraduate and was happy to listen to ideas and then create this excellent sign. I’m sure once he graduates he will go on to do great things. He seemed thrilled to have his artwork displayed for all to see and rightly so.

It stayed dry for the whole event, which was something of a surprise and useful too as the photographer from the local paper battled to make the most of the time we had between showers. As well as the Sustrans crew, Tom’s mum and sister came along and once finished unveiling we all trogged off to the rather cosy Adele’s café after the unveiling to do what cyclist do best: drink tea and coffee, chat and eat some mince pies. If you’re starting the coast to coast why not call in here for breakfast first.

Having seen some of the expensive monuments put in place in France to mark the passing of a Eurovelo cycle routes on French soil this may seem small fry. The fact of the matter is that the board was grabbing people’s attention as soon as we moved away from the vicinity with passers-by photographing it so as to glean information in the comfort of their homes at a later date. As an important national cycle route, the Devon coast to coast deserves no less. We Brit’s need to start to learn to shout about what we have to offer as a nation rather than hiding behind a bushel and acting all coy. We have some of the most varied and impressive countryside in the world and it’s all held in a confined area making it possible to see lot’s during one tour.

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Tom with Chris who spent years making this happen.

Most folks in the UK know that people ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats but that about it. Ask around about Sustrans and most will shake their collective heads to the negative. Who are they and what do they do, is a more usual answer?  Even many of those who have just finished riding on the excellent Tarka- Trail don’t know about Sustrans and Devon County Council’s partnership. We can only do our bit to raise the charitable stature of Sustrans and their amazing work while saving some thinks for the forward thinking Devon County Council.

For those of you who are new to this blog you may not have yet understood why I’m so keen on this charitable organisation. It’s quite simple. They build cycleways, links to schools, colleges, railway stations, town and city centres. I have been an advocate of theirs for six years now, since I began to cycle again in 2009 following a major breakdown in my mental health. I also advocate better mental health provision for all and ride my bike, write books and give talks to try and challenge the stigma of having poor mental health. These things sit very happily hand in hand, providing me with some meaningful occupation into the bargain.

For people like me who suffer from poor mental health my local Sustrans and  Devon County Council cycle ways offer an escape, a place where I can trundle along freely with barely a care in the world. I can also walk along the same trails, or take a dog along with me (if I had one) and in many places I could ride a horse. All of these activities are known to benefit our general well-being, physical and mental health. For those who are well it will aid you maintaining your good health and for those of us who are not so well it aids our recovery, providing us with a quality outdoor experience and somewhere where we can be more mindful.

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Big skies and flatlands

Being away from the roaring noise and often impatient behaviour of car drivers means that families can spend real quality time with each other while enjoying the countryside. For us cyclists, being away from cars gives us space to relax, rather than being as tense as a bunch of chickens placed in a pen with a fox. Relaxing is something that we should all do more of and the traffic free trails where I live are conducive to that seven days of the week. You just have to find the time to go and use them or a few pounds of your hard earned money to support the process which is ongoing. If you wish to know more you can find Sustrans at Any amount of donation, time or skill you can offer will make a difference. The network takes a great deal of overseeing to keep it in great shape and it’s expanding year upon year.

Back in Devon I’m going through the usual winter struggle of trying to keep cycling. We haven’t had a single cold day yet but we have had many windy and extremely wet days. I’ve been taking a new medication for a few months now. It has definitely helped me to manage the, at times, almost overwhelming anxiety that seemed present every waking moment. My sleep has improved but I have to take my daily dose early in the evening if I desire to wake up before ten o’clock the following morning.

I’ve settled on 8 p.m. as the time I take it, and from then until bed I slowly relax until I’m almost drifting away, at which point I turn in for the night. The Mirtazapine seems to work off by morning and I wake feeling more ready to start the day without the fog associated with the Trazadone hydrochloride that I was on. However, there is always a downside and aside from dozing off at nine in the evening, I have been suffering terrible restless leg syndrome. Anyone who suffers this will know how horrible it feels to have your leg muscles aching and spasming constantly.


Complex and interwoven like our minds

I had suffered it previously, but it had not been present for a good while. Now a daily occurrence, it irritates the hell out of me just at the time when I’m supposed to relax and get ready to sleep. The other fly in the ointment is that I don’t wake until nearly 9 a.m. leaving me with a shortened day, especially at this time of the year when daylight is at a premium. We may try reducing the dosage after New Year. I’ll let you know my thoughts as and when things change.

Poor Kermit looks like he’s had a bucket of filth poured over him most of the time. The lanes are now in a real state, although some of the leaf mulch is getting washed away by the constant flowing of water. All the usual flood areas are close to the point where they will overflow the roads locally, but what do you do? My winter riding seems to be of the rush out, tick a shorter ride and wash the crap from Kermit before hunkering down kind. I don’t mind and it gives me the chance to work on stuff I would never do if I go out steady riding for the day. I still enjoy this kind of fartlek workout, it’s the nearest I will ever get to training properly, something that I ceased entertaining a good while ago.

Just being out is all I desire. The light playing on the skeletal looking trees gives a different aura to the Devon lanes that comprise most of my riding. I decided earlier in the autumn that I would try out some of the slightly bigger ‘B’ roads around Hatherleigh. It makes a nice change to ride on surfaces that are generally smoother and in better condition. I think you have to be careful doing this but I know which routes are rat-runs and commuter routes and avoid these like the plague at the times they will be busier. Flashing lights and a dayglow flag do the rest, along with a keen eye on my mirrors.

I’ve now got used to riding Kermit in the rain. It may sound odd, but it felt weird lying down in rain for quite a while before I readjusted. When you ride an upright bike into the rain you tend to huddle over. On Kermit your face takes a right old beating as there’s nowhere to hide it. The falling rain gathers in your crutch making for an interesting experience. When it’s just a shower or two you end up looking as though you’ve peed yourself. Once you get used to it, it’s no different. If it rains enough you get wet regardless of what coat you choose to wear. In recent times it feels just the same as riding in the summer, mostly because it’s actually warmer now than when I went away in June.

Brand new cycle path exploration back in February.

My intention for the winter months, assuming we get some, is to give Kermit a full service as I always do. I am considering possibly be changing to a nine speed set-up in the spring. My thoughts behind this are mostly due to availability of parts and my desire to lighten Kermit as much as I can without compromising his touring ability for next year. There are quite a few areas where I can make considerable savings without going near the wheels and such like. I’m no weight weeny, you only have to lift up Irene, my Santos Travelmaster to glean that information. I feel that I can actually make Kermit perform a great deal better than he does now with just a little effort. It will be a bit experimental but should be fun to try, something I’ve always enjoyed and the reason I know that half of what Shimano says won’t work is complete rubbish.

So there we have it. Another year passes by and another series of tours and one longer ride got placed in the bag of exploration. I reckon you could explore the UK for an entire lifetime and still not have seen it all. I am entertaining going further into Europe next year. Whether I can or not isn’t entirely my own decision as the powers that be have to be informed should I choose to do that. As for all of us much depends upon what funding I can raise and I also have to consider the reaction of my mind to the thought of going somewhere more stressful.

Whatever happens I will be out there, talking, challenging stigma and Riding2Recovery. Have a great Christmas and a New Year full of the things you wish it to be made up of.

Until next time…………………………………………